Friday, August 29, 2008

Loudon Wainwright: Career Moves

This is probably not a huge interest to the pointy-breast-seekers, but I'm going to post it here, because the mailing list cut it off after the first line.

I'm a Loudon Wainwright III fan. No, there's nothing you can do for me. No pills or shock treatment will work. I came to know the ol' Loudo--as millions of other Americans did--from "M*A*S*H", where he played Captain Spaulding, the Singing Surgeon.

His big hit was "Dead Skunk", though I was more partial to "Unrequited to the Nth Degree":

Oh, when I die
And it won't be long
Hey you're gonna be sorry
That you treated me wrong
Yeah, you're gonna be sorry
That you treated me bad
And if there's an afterlife
I'll gloat and I'll be glad

Most of his oeuvre, while irreverent is not as jokey as this, mind you. He's quite the master of mixing serious and comedy (absurd, satirical, smartass--a pretty broad range) in the same song.

Anyway, about ten years ago, I joined an Internet mailing list devoted to him. It was quite novel at the time and I was pleased to find others who enjoyed the ol' Loudo's music.

LW3 is prolific. From 1997 (when I joined the list) till now, he's released, I dunno, over a half dozen albums. And except for the live albums, every release has been met with bitching from the list about the production.

You see, Loudon's first two albums were just him and guitar. And some people think that's all he should ever be and do . There are other sorts of bitching that list-members endure, as well, such as bitching about "Social Studies", which was an album of topical songs mostly written for NPR. (Loudon's other albums tend to be intensely personal by contrast.) And now we get new bitching because he's teamed up with Judd Apatow written music for the movie Knocked Up, as well as (gasp) doing a lot of performing others' music. He's not always performing alone anymore and he's not always doing exclusively his own music. (Neither of these things are new, but he's branching out to a new degree.)

Any other fan base would probably be ecstatic that their man--who turns 62 on Tuesday and does dozens and dozens of shows all around the world every year--is so prolific, and has a chance at some mainstream popularity. But Loudon fans are different. Loudon's even written about it:

Some fans harass and stalk the big guy likes to talk
he knows every song what’s been good and gone wrong
he knows the story of my whole cheesy life
the name of each kid ex-girlfriend and wife
every label that I’ve every been on
yes he’s obsessed but he doesn’t fawn
though he understands cause he’s my biggest fan
. . .
But the biggest surprise asides his size
is just how hip he is when it comes to show biz
there’s a (triumberate) kind of top three
yeah there’s Bob then there’s Neil then there’s me
naturally Bobs number one and the runner up that’s Mr Young
I’m number three in command but he’s still my biggest fan
yeah hey I’m his third man but he’s still my biggest fan

Now that I've put in all this foundational material, I'm not really interested in reprinting what I put on the mailing list. (Yes, this is all new material, and I wrote a lot more in response to someone misguided rant. But now I'm bored with the my own rant. Heh.)

Short story: People who get together to talk about something--fan groups--tend to be insular and short-sighted. They tend to think they're the whole world when they're really a tiny piece of it. They're particularly bad at making judgements vis a vis what will be successful in the real wide-world.

Also, as I've said over and over again, it would be death to any artist to read their own fan-group list. I can't imagine anything more introverting and doubt-creating than listening to people like, well, like Loudon's "biggest fan", above.


  1. Blake,you hit it on the nail. All the bitching really does me in. I'm afraid I love 99% or probably 100% of everything Loudo has done. Early songs reworked are great. New songs grow on me the more I listen to them. Saw him first in the 70s at a London folk club and was hooked. Managed to talk to him at Ronnie Scott's in London in 1999 and I was like a blithering idiot talking to his hero don't know to this day what I said to him but it was basically love your work just keep doing it. He smiled and said ah! a fan eh? I thought that was a compliment. I too am part of the mailing list but tend not to read the negative crap that a lot of them write. I'm afraid I just love Loudo. He makes me laugh, he makes me cry, but most of all he keeps me sane. For me probably sadly he can do no wrong.

  2. I'm with you, man. Every album we get is a plus, every concert another chance to see him.

    He's one of the greats.

    I swear a lot of it is just some kind of bullshit intellectual/purist bona fides.

    I've talked to him a couple of times, too. He's fun in autograph signings, but it's a little awkward otherwise. He's gracious but I don't know what to say.


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